Adults in Wheelchairs Provide Real-Life Examples of What Living Beyond a Disability Means

Like any eight-year-old boy, Gideon loves sports. He’s adventurous and active, bright, funny, and one-of-a-kind. He loves art and music; especially singing and dancing to Maroon 5’s song, “Moves Like Jagger.” He also has Cerebral Palsy. Yet, that doesn’t stop him from competing. Through adaptive sports and organizations like TOPSoccer, Miracle League and Greater Cincinnati Adaptive Sports Club, Gideon plays everything from baseball to soccer to basketball.

“Just because your child might have a disability doesn’t mean they aren’t a kid, first and foremost,” said Gideon’s mother, Sara. “Gideon is an eight-year-old boy who wants to play and do EVERYTHING. He just happens to be in a wheelchair. There will be things he might not ever be able to do—any child will have to face that truth—but being part of a team, scoring a goal, hitting a home run or sinking that last minute buzzer shot, those are things Gideon will experience!”

As the National Veterans Wheelchair Games comes to Cincinnati, Gideon will get to experience the Games and Kid’s Day for the first time. For Sara, that means he’ll get to see grown-ups in wheelchairs who are thriving and providing visual examples for her son that he can be more than just his disability. For Gideon, “he’s just excited to get out there and play,” says Sara.

Karla Clay – The Evolution of an Athlete

National Veterans Wheelchair Games Athlete: Karla Cole Clay
Hometown: Memphis, Tennessee
Current location: Dallas, Texas
Age: 57
Military Branch/Years of Service: Air Force/4
Years at NVWG: 3
2017 Events: bowling, 100 meter race, discus

Growing up, Karla Cole Clay was more involved in music and performing arts than sports. Valedictorian of her high school class of 1978, Karla attended Christian Brothers College (now University) in her hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, on an Air Force ROTC scholarship.

“I thought, I’ll give them a commitment of four years and they’ll pay for college. That sounds like a good deal. October 26, 1982 was my first day of active duty. On October 25, 1986 I resigned my commission. I was promoted to Captain a few months earlier—I had actually made Captain early—so people were stunned when I got out, but I fulfilled my commitment like I said I would and then I walked away.”

Karla served as commissary officer at McChord Air Force Base in Tacoma, Washington and, later, at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls, Montana. While at Malmstrom, she assisted the Commander of Air Force Commissary Service on inspections at other commissaries, and was eventually sent on temporary duty to the commissary at Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin, Texas. Her husband was returning from duty in Korea to begin law school in Austin, which made it the perfect time for temporary duty to be changed into a permanent assignment. Based on improvements she and her team made to the commissary, Karla was selected as Air Force Commissary Service Junior Officer of the Year and promoted to Captain. After leaving the Air Force in 1986, she pursued her marketing career, working in sales management for a number of consumer product companies.

After experiencing periodic symptoms—tingling in her feet, vertigo—for more than a decade, an MRI in 2001 diagnosed Karla with MS. She continued to work another ten years, but stayed “in the closet” about her diagnosis, only telling family and close friends because she was unsure how it would impact her career. As symptoms mounted, she ultimately had to face reality and stop working. Upon learning that she was eligible for care at the VA, she enrolled and was using a wheelchair from the VA when a physical therapist suggested she look into getting a custom wheelchair.

“They even had my favorite color. They give you a brochure and you pick it out like you pick out a car. I just got new wheels with blue spokes, so now I’m really looking sharp.”

A self-proclaimed “wheelchair potato,” Karla was shocked when people suggested she participate in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Dallas. Hesitant at first, she eventually signed up for racing, javelin and bowling, and became hooked on adaptive sports, particularly strength training.

“I began strength training with the VA kinesiology therapist and quickly realized that I like to challenge myself and lift more or do more sets and improve each time I go. I’ve lost weight and toned up. Two years ago, at the age of 55, my transformation from non-athlete to NVWG medalist began several months before the Games in Dallas. Each week I did two hours of strength training with a VA kinesiology therapist and two hours of track and field practice with two VA recreation therapists. I was stunned when I noticed muscles two months later—biceps and triceps I hadn’t seen before. I keep teasing friends that I’m going to walk around in sleeveless shirts even in the winter because I really do like the way my arms look now!”

She gives a lot of the credit for her success to the team at the Dallas VA SCI (Spinal Cord Injury) clinic.

“I couldn’t have competed without the coordinated efforts of the outstanding Dallas VA SCI clinic team. The physiatrist who did my first NVWG physical sent me to a kinesiology therapist for strength training, and two recreation therapists taught me how to play boccia and throw the discus and javelin. Also, a physical therapist and an occupational therapist worked together to equip my chair with additional support devices for racing.”

Getting involved in the Games got Karla more involved in Paralyzed Veterans of America (Paralyzed Veterans, PVA). She now volunteers at the SCI Internet Cafe at the Dallas VA, volunteering as a host and helping guests use the computers. She got to try out adaptive rowing through a partnership between Paralyzed Veterans and Dallas United Crew and participated in Walk MS with the Dallas VA MS support group’s Veteran Strong team that was sponsored by the Lone Star PVA. Up next, she’s looking forward to tackling adaptive rock climbing at the NVWG Expo.

“If you’d told me I’d be doing all these things 10 years ago, I would’ve thought you were crazy. I’d never heard of boccia nor seen a javelin or discus in person. Getting involved with adaptive sports and Paralyzed Veterans changed my life. I’ve come out of my shell and met many great people, reaped the rewards of volunteering, gotten in shape, learned so much—especially about myself—and even have three gold medals, a silver medal and a bronze medal, thanks to the NVWG. The flame was lit in me back in 2015 and I’m going strong!”

Toyota Sponsors National Veterans Wheelchair Games for 17th Consecutive Year

Adults and children signing the Toyota Wall of Inspiration at the 2015 National Veterans Wheelchair Games

Adults and children signing the Toyota Wall of Inspiration at the 2015 National Veterans Wheelchair Games

Aside from seeing Toyota’s signature-wrapped vehicles bearing the National Veterans Wheelchair Games logo at the 2016 Games in Salt Lake City, Veteran athlete participants might also notice a local and national commitment by the car company to programs that support Veterans’ health, mobility and well-being.

The 36th National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG) – which take place June 27-July 2, 2016, in Salt Lake City – will again welcome Toyota as a national host sponsor, which includes support for the Games as well as sponsorship of the “Wall of Appreciation,” where Veteran athletes, family members and volunteers are invited to handwrite their messages of thanks and support.

“We are totally committed to our Veterans – the great men and women who have served our country,” said Mark Oldenburg, national fleet marketing, mobility and strategic planning manager for Toyota USA. ““We’ve had a relationship with Paralyzed Veterans of America going back to 1999, and each year, we try to do even more.”

Toyota also will provide a fleet of 12 loaner vehicles for official staff to drive as they commute to various event venues. Each vehicle will be wrapped with colorful graphics inspired by the NVWG logo.

Toyota also will present Paralyzed Veterans of America with a wheelchair accessible Toyota Sienna featuring a graphic treatment honoring disabled Veterans for use in their headquarters in Washington, D.C.

As in past years, Veterans can view and tour one of Toyota Mobility’s wheelchair accessible vehicles at the Disabled Sports, Recreation and Fitness Expo, taking place Sunday, June 27, and featuring more than 100 sports and recreation organizations and companies that provide health, wellness and accessibility products. A unique display of wheelchair accessible Toyota Sienna vans also will be featured adjacent to the competition area throughout the week.

“Toyota has a strong core message of mobility for all, and that includes those with disabilities,” Oldenburg said. “Our Veterans are a core part of that strategy, and we want to do as much as we can to serve them.”

The 36th annual National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG) – co-presented by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Paralyzed Veterans of America – will feature 19 wheelchair sporting events and two exhibition sports for disabled Veterans June 27-July 2, 2016, in Salt Lake City.

Brittany Ballenstedt is a military spouse, freelance journalist and photographer in Washington, D.C.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                Contact:           Lani Poblete

June 17, 2015                                                                                                             202-416-7667

Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Department of Veterans Affairs Recognize American Airlines as Premier Sponsor of 35th National Veterans Wheelchair Games


Washington, DC—Paralyzed Veterans of America (Paralyzed Veterans) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are proud to recognize American Airlines as the premier sponsor and the official airline of the 35th National Veterans Wheelchair Games. More than 600 veterans are expected to compete in this year’s Games, scheduled for June 21–26 in Dallas.


“American Airlines has really stepped up to support the Games and our wheelchair athletes,” said Al Kovach Jr., national president of Paralyzed Veterans. “Each year hundreds of veterans with disabilities benefit from participation in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, thanks to the generous support of sponsors like American Airlines.”


As Premier Sponsor of the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, American has donated 2.5 million American Airlines AAdvantage Miles to assist with travel costs for qualifying veteran athletes and support staff. In addition, American will serve as an host sponsor for the quad rugby and weightlifting competitions.


The National Veterans Wheelchair Games, presented annually by Paralyzed Veterans and VA, are open to all U.S. military veterans who use wheelchairs for sports competition as a result of spinal cord injury, certain neurological conditions, amputations or other mobility impairments, and who receive care at VA medical facilities or military treatment centers.


“The National Veterans Wheelchair Games represents a significant commitment to the rehabilitation of our nations veterans and empowering them to live more healthy and active lives through sports and recreation. The partnership with our sponsors to fulfill our mission, especially American Airlines, helps us to reach out and support more of our nation’s heroes,” said David Tostenrude, director of the National Veterans Wheelchair Games.


Veterans at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games will compete in 18 events: air guns, archery, basketball, boccia, bowling, handcycling, a motorized wheelchair rally, nine ball, power soccer, quad rugby, slalom, softball, swimming, table tennis, track and field, trapshooting and weightlifting. This year’s Games will also feature a rowing exhibition. Athletes compete in all events against others with similar athletic ability, competitive experience or age.


For more information about the 35th National Veterans Wheelchair Games, please visit





About Paralyzed Veterans of America:

Paralyzed Veterans of America is the only congressionally chartered veterans service organization dedicated solely to serving veterans with spinal cord injury or disease. For nearly 70 years, Paralyzed Veterans has worked to ensure benefits, quality health care, accessibility, employment, and rehabilitative sports and recreation for veterans with disabilities. With more than 70 offices and 34 chapters, Paralyzed Veterans serves veterans, their families and their caregivers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. (


About the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of National Veterans Sports Programs & Special Events:

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of National Veterans Sports Programs & Special Events is the recognized world leader in rehabilitative and recreational therapies for disabled Veterans. VA promotes the rehabilitation of body and spirit by operating adaptive sports clinics and competitions around the nation. Learn more about VA’s adaptive sports programs and partnerships at